Note from the editor: Hi readers! I’m excited to introduce to you a new feature at the Stylish Sophisticate. Every month our new anonymous opinion columnist, Stylish Council, will explore a contemporary social issue. Questions or Feedback for Stylish Council? Email us at StylishCouncil@gmail.com! -Diya
Given the Internet’s propensity to identify and propagate #trending #conflicts at #insta-speed, it was only a matter of time before the worlds of fashion blogging and parodical quippy social networking handles would collide and open the floor for opining. The latest kulturkampf catalyst? Newly anointed Instagram darling, You Did NotEat That (YDNET). From the sidelines of the fashion blogs, the anonymous Instagram account surveys the conspicuous consumption of diminutive fashion bloggers as they post photos of themselves next to decadent foods with their enviable BMIs and designer duds on prominent display. Reposting the fashion bloggers’ purportedly staged snaps with clever (often snarky) captions, YDNET apparently aims to humorously call the pastry-wielding poseurs out on the obviousness of their image curation by saying, “you did not eat that.”
For an Instagram account that has only been around for a month, YDNET has managed to generate quite a bit of buzz. The social commentary on YDNET’s social commentary is rather polarizing: while fashionistas at Huffpo, The Gloss and The Cut are cracking up at YDNET’s mission to end the macaron-selfie mayhem, critics argue that beneath the stylized veneer of Instagram filters and “like” buttons, a dark and destructive micro-movement is having a moment. By insinuating that very skinny women cannot possibly be eating the food with which they are posing, YDNET appears to be fueling the fire of a noxious social trend: skinny-shaming. Are YDNET’s critics missing her point, or do they have a point of their own? Are the potential disparate effects of YDNET’s mission as a fashion blogger BS-detector so horrible that her goal should be re-examined?
First, consider YDNET’s stated purpose. In her interview with The Cut, YDNET reassures us that she does not mean to offend or come across as mean-spirited, and that she is not making a statement about what size women ought to be. As a seasoned fashion industry insider, she claims to merely point out the formulaic banality of Instagram pictures posted by modelesque fashion types (which feature some combination of a scenic backdrop, elements of sartorial savvy, and a calorically dense food prop). Since Instagram is a conduit for re-pasting trends in real time, and since having blog and Instagram “followers” and “likes” is a fashion blogger’s bread and butter (no food pun intended), it follows that fashion bloggers often rely on a tried and true formula to achieve Googlemetric success. This translates to following current re-pasted trends that will maximize the “likes,” no matter how odd (colorful sugary food as the ultimate accessory?) or overdone (asymmetrical crop tops; ugly hats?) those trends might be.
YDNET reminds readers that from the Bambi-legged, eyelash-batting poses to the effortlessly chic stack of mismatched bracelets to the peonies and cronuts, many Instagram snaps are far less spontaneous and authentic than the fashion bloggers would lead us to believe. The reality check is understandably uncomfortable for bloggers and their followers alike: by calling bloggers out on their immaculate food-and-fashion pairings and essentially declaring them unconvincing try-hards, YDNETlets them know that she’s on to them. Since many fashion blog followers rely on the bloggers’ beautifully curated “documentation” of their enviable lives for a steady source of inspiration, aspiration, or escapism, the stark reminder that the imagery is often staged, inauthentic, and quite possibly unachievable can be equally upsetting to the followers, bursting the fantasy bubble of their collective conscience.
Indeed, consider what goes on in that collective conscience: why do followers follow their Instagram muses? On the one hand, Instagram feeds and fashion blogs serve as windows to the good life, providing followers with the voyeuristic thrill of observing the well-heeled and well-coiffed pose in their glamorous, perfectly-illuminated habitats while supposedly engaging in mesmerizingly quotidian activities. On the other hand, the universal nature of the Internet implies that potentially, anyone could achieve fame, fortune, and overnight success, even if all they have to share with the world is a penchant for expressing their materialism with the aid of an Instagram filter and a buzzy hashtag. This largely unspoken Internet truth—that image-crafting is a big, sometimes unconscious part of almost everyone’s social networking presence—may suggest that followers’ adoration of fashion bloggers stems at least partly from their own innate desires to be successful and maybe even Internet-famous.
Because of how pervasive “follower” culture has become, we rarely stop to think about who we follow on social networking platforms and why; we don’t consider the bloggers’ goals and posting habits (let alone, our own), and we are comfortable living, quasi-vicariously, through a combination of other people’s image-crafted blog posts and our own curated-by-proxy experiences. Blowing the whistle on this strangely insincere practice puts an abrupt kibosh on the notion that anything in Instaworld is possible to achieve in real life, that there is a tangible reality where chiseled abs and chunky XL cookies are not mutually exclusive. “You did not eat that!” is less a judgment against skinny fashion bloggers than a proclamation that the entire culture of fashion blogger Instagram posting is a bit of a ruse. It is unlikely that anyone would argue against that position. YDNET’s problem is not so much with its real message, but with the delivery.
While pointing out the vast disconnect between crafted online imagery and reality is nothing new, there are different ways to conduct the conversation. When people laugh about their own unsuccessful attempts to recreate nauseatingly perfect beauty blogger hairstyles or food blogger soufflés, the result is all humor with no room for judgmental misinterpretation. Even when fashion bloggers are made fun of for their ridiculously inauthentic poses, predictable props and recycled content, the criticism is not as direct as, say, proclaiming that a Lilliputian-sized fashion blogger did NOT eat that giant lollipop, even if she does look totally ridiculous posing in a schoolgirl outfit in a high school cafeteria like it’s totally normal. The express message (the ludicrousness of a cliché post idea) gets lost in its implied interpretation (the lack of eating). For many, all that registers is that it’s as if YDNET just wants to pick on skinny girls for being skinny; that YDNET is just skinny-shaming. Her posts, as critics have pointed out, teeter on the funny/offensive line, generally crossing into downright mean territory when they are viewed by people with a heightened vigilance for potentially offensive social media material. Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that YDNET is targeting skinny women onInstagram.
Although YDNET’s critics make a worthy point by implying that YDNET might be sending some negative messages about health and thinness, there is a flipside to this issue. While skinny-shaming (and fat-shaming; and really, any-shaming) is judgmental and obnoxious, policing YDNET’s mockery sounds an awful lot like Instagram-parody-account-shaming. No matter where we stand on any issue, we perpetually put often ourselves in the position to judge or be judged through our social media presence. By imploring us to express ourselves, instantly, in 140 characters or less or a snapshot, social networking culture inevitably leads us to (1) instantly share our ideas and photos without thinking them through or (2) deliberately, compulsively craft our images. Both routes may eventually lead to backlash, judging, and shaming.
On the one hand, we are a vastly connected, hyperaware society that generally prides itself on our sensitivity to social issues and political correctness. On the other hand, these qualities can also be our biggest shortcomings. Being too aware and too-PC puts us in a peculiar position where we often get caught in an overshare-judge-shame-apologize-overshare cycle. We are either too politically correct (and perhaps too contrived or too perfect) or we are offensive, insensitive, and uninformed. There is a benefit and a detriment to both sides of the communication spectrum. With too much information, too much data, and too many fan clubs, there is a stump for every cause and an angry mob for every instance of cause neglect. Although it’s noble to identify and defend causes (and no cause is too small for recognition), hyper-vigilance creates its own problems. From the subplot of PCU to Facebook wars over minor bouts of ignorance, sometimes being too-PC and too easily offended leads to unnecessary conflict and miscommunication. Sometimes being a little offensive—and being able to handle some offensive comments—can actually have a positive effect.
Consider that, as a result of the backlash to this supposed skinny-shaming debacle, women all over the world have shared their thoughts about their own weight and identity struggles, discussed how their fragile body image is shaped by an impossible, anomalousconstruct, or winked back YDNET by looking past its slightly crude presentation to appreciate the funny part of the message while choosing to ignore its negative implications. By analyzing and reflecting on the weighty issue of thinness—with minimal judgment and an open mind—we are able to better grasp our own understanding of the issue, which, in turn, allows us to better understand where everyone else (offender or offended) may be coming from.
Assessing YDNET’s role in skinny-shaming from a neutral vantage point, it becomes evident that though YDNET might display some elements of mean-girl schadenfreude, at the end of the day, it’s just a parody Instagram handle that pokes fun (albeit, in a Gawker-esque way) at a silly trend. YDNET’s ultimate goal is to highlight the hackneyed, farcical ridiculousness of a fashion blogger using porny food as an accessory—with the incongruence of the caloric content of the accessory to the blogger’s thigh gap playing only a circumstantial role to the larger social observation about the ludicrousness of the fashion blogging formula itself. How we choose to interpret and learn from YDNET’s message—and how far we decide to push the limits of our social hyperawareness in our own social networking spheres—is up to us.